As we hear news on missiles hitting Gaza and Israel, mass media are telling us about who is shooting missiles and so on. Meanwhile, there are a group of people living in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Israel, that are suffering; they are the Christians of the Holy Land.
Tom and I have traveled to the Holy Land 42 times since 1984, most of those times were leading groups of pilgrims. Through our experiences of presenting talks on the Holy Land to various church and school groups, we continue to discover the majority of Americans do not know there is a Christian presence in the Holy Land and that this Christian population has been living there since the beginning of Christianity. They are called the Mother Church, because from her Christianity spread throughout the world.
Who Are They?
For 2,000 years, Christian families have lived and worshiped in the land where Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. These Christians are not converts, immigrants or foreigners…they are the descendants of the first followers of Jesus as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2:11. The Christians in the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine, Jordan) are Arab Christians (their mother tongue is Arabic). They are not converts from Islam; Islam did not arrive in Jerusalem until 638 A.D. These Christians are Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant. They are also called Palestinian Christians because they live in Palestine and have been living there before Israel became a state.
Fr. Firas Arideh, a diocesan priest living in Palestine, says: “We are thinkers, we are theologians, we are philosophers, we are teachers, we are believers in the Bible and in Jesus Christ and we are rolling up our sleeves and are making a difference by shedding light in a bleak situation because nothing will stand between us and the Lord.”
Why is it Important to Be Aware of Mother Church?
They are active members of parishes in Jerusalem, Cana, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Gaza, and other villages throughout the Holy Land. These cities are biblical, and their very stones mark the holy sites of our Lord’s life – the Christians are the living stones!
- They are part of a 2,000 year unbroken legacy of Christianity in the Holy Land.
- They are the first to tell you they are the living church, helping sustain the holy sites through their presence, active participation in the Church and the community.
- They receive pilgrims, own restaurants and religious souvenir shops and are proud to speak about their Land, the Land of the Lord! Their warm Middle-Eastern hospitality is always impressive and delightful!
In the last 60 years, the Christian population has gone from 18% of the population to less than 1.5% of the population. This is a serious concern for the Church. If the Christians continue to dwindle, the Churches built over the Holy Sites will be vacant and may become museums!
Why Such a Small Number Now?
- According to sociological surveys, military occupation of the West Bank (Palestine) by Israel has caused a dramatic and steady decline of the Christian community to what is now an “endangered” population. Respondents made it clear that this decline is not due to Islam.
- The Christians are a minority. As one Palestinian Catholic priest said: “We are rejected by the Israeli Jewish people and government because we are Arabs.”
What Can I Do For Them?
- Tell others what you have read.
- Pray! Pray for the Mother Church of the Holy Land. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are united with us in the Christian solidarity of the mystical Body of Christ – the Church: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
- Go to the Holy Land on pilgrimage! Join a Pilgrim Center of Hope pilgrimage during this Year of Faith. Experience the Land of the Bible and the “living stones!” Visit our website to see the various dates offered: www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org
- Read! We strongly recommend a book written by a Palestinian Catholic priest, now an Archbishop in the Holy Land, Elias Chacour. The title is Blood Brothers. Chacour writes about his life growing up around the Sea of Galilee, the strong Christian community, and life in Israel today. Obtain a copy through our offices, or online.
- Stay in touch with the Diocese of Jerusalem, called the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem: www.lpj.org
- Host a presentation on the Holy Land for your organization or parish. Contact us to set a date.
Pope John Paul II, in his homily in Bethlehem in March 2000 during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, told the Christians: “Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very land where the Savior was born.”